While researching my trip to Croatia, I had a lot of difficulty picking from, and allocating time to, all the equally enticing options. In my research, one of the reoccurring topics was how to decide between Hvar and Korcula.
While I would say that a trip to the Croatian coast should have time allocated to both islands, this post is my take on the two. I must caveat this by saying that I spent two days on each, and my time was limited mostly to the main town centres. I also must note that we were visiting Croatia at the end of September 2015, so there were way less crowds compared to the hoards of visitors in July and August.
While both experiences were quite different, I would be hard pressed to suggest one over the other. Ultimately what you decide will depend on what you’re after, as one may suit your holiday better.
Hvar town is easily reached from Split by high speed passenger ferry in about an hour. There is a ferry leaving in the early morning (between 7 -8am depending on the season), returning to Split in the late afternoon, making Hvar an easy day trip option from Split. There is also a car ferry that travels between Split and Stari Grad (another town on Hvar Island), with the journey taking about 2 hours. This option, while cheaper, requires a bus ride that takes about 20 minutes if your destination on the island is Hvar Town. If you don’t have a car and you can get tickets on the fast ferry (they sell out in summer, so buy a few days prior if possible), I recommend you take the fast ferry if your final destination is Hvar Town. Depending on the season, there may be more than one ferry per day. All the ferry operators have booths at the terminal in Split where you can get further information.
Layout of the city
Arriving in Hvar Town on the ferry, you are welcomed by the wide waterfront promenade lined with restaurants, shops and bars on one side and yachts on the other. Hvar Town’s centre is a grande piazza, lined with cafes and restaurants, with laneways off the main piazza having further restaurant and bar options. Accommodation is spread out throughout the old town, with many less expensive options found on the hillside overlooking the town.
For our two night stay, we chose Apartment Iris, which took about 10 minutes of relatively steep uphill walking from the bus station (located just past the church along with a decent size shopping centre). For us this option was great as it was less expensive, had a kitchen and a balcony looking down at the town. The downside was that multiple trips back to the apartment was out of the question as the walk uphill was hot and tiring in the sun. The owner was lovely and picked us up and dropped us off at the bus station when we arrived.
Bars and restaurants
Hvar seemed to have many more options for dining, especially fine dining. The streets leading off of the piazza provide as many options of differing cuisines that you could ask for. On the downside, we found the prices in Hvar to be the most expensive of the four places visited (Split, Hvar, Korcula and Dubrovnik).
For dinner, we spent some time in the early evening wandering the laneways to see the menus and speaking to the staff who were outside trying to convince us to dine at their restaurant. With all budgets are catered for, you’ll be able to find a spot to eat that fits your budget. Options for cocktails were plenty, with many bars lining the marina. Sipping on a cocktail while watching the sunset with views of the harbour and the multi-million dollar yachts was one of the highlights of my trip.
Day trip options
In our two days in Hvar, besides eating and drinking in the town centre, we spent one day walking along the waterfront towards the Hula Hula bar and one day exploring the fortress. There are many day trips available including trips by boat to the nearby islands and beaches on Hvar island and the option to rent a scooter and explore at your own pace. We decided to explore the area on our own.
Along the walk towards Hula Hula Bar (about 15 – 20 minutes from the town centre), there are several places to swim, though the free and not-so-free spots differed in their comfort. The actual beaches with sand require payment for the rental of a sun lounger, which makes a great option if you’re planning on spending a few hours swimming and suntanning. Alternatively, you can lounge on the concrete / smooth rocks nearby for free. While this doesn’t sound like a great option, equipped with a towel, there are plenty of comfortable spots to find and it’s a very popular option.
On our second day, we trekked up the hill to the fortress that overlooks Hvar Town. This is a relatively easy ‘hike’ (about 10 – 20 minutes depending how quickly you walk) which starts up from the old town (with lots of steps) and then it turns into a dirt trail with switch backs up to the top. It’s also reached by car if you happen to have one or want to pay for a taxi. For a small fee (35 kunas), you can explore the fortress at your leisure and there’s also a cafe / restaurant. The fortress has a museum, access to the old prison cells and has better views than those from outside the paid area. To make sure we had energy to make our way back down, we bought snacks at a cafe in the town centre and had our picnic overlooking Hvar. My tip – go on an overcast day, early in the morning or late in the afternoon as it can get very hot (even in late September!).
If you’re looking for nightlife, Hvar wins hands down. While there are many options on the island itself, there are excursions by boat to the parties on the Pakleni Islands. When we were there, there was a poster for a ‘last party of the season’ party, which I believe only started at our usual 11pm bedtime, so we gave it a miss!
Generally speaking, in our two nights in Hvar, the average age seemed much younger compared to Korcula. As a result, Korcula had a much more laid back vibe in the town centre.
If you’re coming from Split, Korcula can be reached by either ferry or bus. Most of the ferries that go to Hvar continue onto Korcula, arriving in Korcula about 2 hours later, with a total travel time from Split to Korcula of 3 hours. If you’re coming from Dubrovnik, Korcula is much closer than Hvar, taking about two hours by catamaran (fast ferry).
If you’re planning on seeing both islands, the above considerations won’t matter, however if you’re only going to one, your starting and ending destination may make a difference in your decision.
Layout of the town centre
Korcula is sometimes referred to as a mini-Dubrovnik as its town centre is surrounded by walls and is set on the water. The town centre, which is pedestrian only, has a main ‘street’ down its centre, with alleys to both sides leading to the walls (it looks kind of like a fish spine).
For our two night stay, we chose Apartments Luka, which was a 15 minute walk to the Old Town and is set on the river. The apartment provides lounge chairs so you can relax next to the river or hop in the water for a swim (which I did a few times). It was a bit of a walk, so perfect if you have a scooter, but I enjoyed the walk into town. There are plenty of options in town, but I chose this one because I liked the option of having a bit more of a relaxing location after spending the previous two days in Hvar!
Bars and restaurants
While seemingly less options than Hvar, Korcula has many dining options, including a row of restaurants with tables hugging the eastern wall, providing views of the beautiful surrounding bay. We at Amfora Pizzeria, one of the restaurants with its tables lining the alleyways off the main street.
Outside the Old Town’s walls you’ll find many more less expensive options providing a variety of cuisines. Another option, which I would classify more as a bar, is located about a 10 minute walk west of the Old Town called Maksimilijan Garden. It has plenty of outdoor seating, with views looking back to the Old Town. In the early evening, the views are amazing.
Day trip options
Having seen the old town during our first day, we rented a scooter and spent most of a day travelling around the nearby bays and having a swim in the pristine waters. Driving the scooter was easy as there wasn’t a lot of traffic. To make it easy, there are many places renting scooters (and bikes) just outside the Old Town’s walls. There are only a few roads leading out of the old town area, so it’s fairly easy to navigate, though having a map of some description is handy in order to find the beaches.
After an exhausting day or driving and swimming, we had a lovely pizza at a restaurant overlooking the bay called Pizzeria Torkul (highly recommended, if only for the view), located near Lumbarda (about 7km from Korcula town – reached by car, bus or water taxi).
I don’t think you can go wrong with either option, though one might suit your travelling and holiday style better. If I had to chose again, I might lead ever so slightly to Hvar, just because there were more people around, more dining options, and our evening sipping cocktails at a bar lining the marina was one of the highlights of our 10 days in Croatia. Though as you can see by the photos, the beaches just outside Korcula are amazingly beautiful!